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A sea of troubles

The Economist
Man is assaulting the oceans. They will smite him if he does not take care

[Description of multiple problems in the oceans]

Each of these changes is a catastrophe. Together they make for something much worse. Moreover, they are happening alarmingly fast—in decades, rather than the aeons needed for fish and plants to adapt. Many are irreversible. It will take tens of thousands of years for ocean chemistry to return to a condition similar to its pre-industrial state of 200 years ago, says Britain’s most eminent body of scientists, the Royal Society. Many also fear that some changes are reaching thresholds after which further changes may accelerate uncontrollably. No one fully understands why the cod have not returned to the Grand Banks off Canada, even after 16 years of no fishing. No one quite knows why glaciers and ice shelves are melting so fast, or how a meltwater lake on the Greenland ice sheet covering six square kilometres could drain away in 24 hours, as it did in 2006. Such unexpected events make scientists nervous.

What can be done to put matters right? The sea, the last part of the world where man acts as a hunter-gatherer—as well as bather, miner, dumper and general polluter—needs management, just as the land does. Economics demands it as much as environmentalism, for the world squanders money through its poor stewardship of the oceans. Bad management and overfishing waste $50 billion a year, says the World Bank.

Economics also provides some answers. For a start, fishing subsidies should be abolished in an industry characterised by overcapacity and inefficiency. Then governments need to look at ways of giving those who exploit the resources of the sea an interest in their conservation.
(30 December 2008)
Reported by Moonwatcher at today’s DrumBeat (TOD). He writes:

I figure the over-fishing, pollution, and acidification and warming of the World’s oceans is not only a real problem but one that may be too late to solve once The Economist gets around to running a special series of articles about these problems

… Mother Jones beat The Economist with their Last Days of the Ocean series by more than two years. But who reads those libral pinko mags anyway?

Also at TOD, ptoemmes points to an MSNBC video report about Brown pelicans at risk in California (MSNBC).

The Los Angeles Times did a great series in 2006: Altered Oceans.

LA water cops hunt wasteful faucets, sprinklers

Noaki Schwartz, Associated Press via Yahoo!News
The green thumbs who keep lawns lush and flora flourishing in the city have found a new foe among the aphids, white flies and other yard pests — the water police.

Just as some scofflaws keep an eye out for black-and-white patrol cars, gardeners have learned to spot the white Toyota Priuses driven by Los Angeles water cops out to fight waste as California struggles with an extended drought.

“They get to scattering when they see us,” said Department of Water and Power officer Alonzo Ballengar. “I don’t know what they call me, but I’m sure they have names.”

A total of 15 officers now prowl neighborhoods and respond to thousands of tips in their search for those who use sprinklers between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., clean driveways with water instead of a broom or otherwise waste the precious commodity.
(6 January 2009)

Flow: Who Owns the World’s Water?

Jessica Mosby, The Women’s International Perspective (WIP)
After seeing the new documentary Flow, my 2009 New Year’s resolution is to stop buying bottled water. Over $100 billion is spent annually on bottled water, but it would cost only $30 billion to provide clean drinking water to the entire world. Unlike tap water, bottled water is not regulated for cleanliness. And don’t even get me started on the mountains of plastic bottles created by the bottled water industry.

For 84 terrifying and informative minutes, filmmaker Irena Salina makes a very persuasive case for stopping the commoditization of water and ensuring that everyone has access to clean drinking water. Salina interviews an array of researchers and activists who all describe the frightening international situation: dirty water kills more people than wars, the world is quickly running out of clean water, and water has become a valuable commodity for multinational corporations to exploit for profit. Flow is currently available on DVD.

The film is grounded in the question: Who owns the world’s water? Without water life cannot exist. But 1.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water, and over 5 million people die annually from water-related illnesses. While Flow is a wake-up call that documents all that is wrong with the world’s attitude toward water, the film also profiles a number of technologies that could dramatically improve international access to clean drinking water at a nominal cost.
(3 January 2009)